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Thursday, 05 November 2009


Professor Irwin Corey, the man who knows everything about everything.

'Never use a lens whose focal length, in millimeters, is less than the weight of the woman.'

Now that's one place where the old imperial vs. metric debate starts to make a difference! ;)


10lbs, It's true, I often am left wondering just how many cameras are pointed at me!!

Re: 'Never use a lens whose focal length, in millimeters, is less than the weight of the woman.'

That really, really depends on your unit of measurement...150 pounds, 68 kilograms or 11 stone? Those are three VERY different lenses!

I assume we are speaking about weight in kilograms -and focal length in mm-e.

It would be interesting to know what focal length comes to people's mind when first reading this rule. 60mm was my first thought (funny focal length I know but Canon produces an EF-S 60mm macro that I used to have).

Doesn't the article also give advice to photographers how to make people look 'slimmer'?

Perhaps. Bad photographers take poor photos and vice versa. Blaming a camera for making you look bad is like blaming a knife for cutting you. Fighting ignorance? I don't think so.

Not a bad rule of thumb, perhaps. I am assuming that he refers to her weight in pounds, not kilos...

The first guy to market with a binocular bathroom scales will make a right killing.

Is that pounds or kilogrammes?

and since a gentleman - any photographer should be one - doesnt talk about the weight of a woman, the measuring unit isnt disclosed either. kilogram? pounds? stones?
doesnt matter, the rule is "use whatever makes the woman look great."
same applies to men, if anyone asks.

Too funny, but that suggestion on focal length sounds just about right.

As crazy as all this sounds--The wider the lens and the closer you are to the subject the more the outer 1/3rd of the image will get bigger--round ball in center--egg on outer 1/3rd.
Optical problem solved by using longer lenses and keeping subjects in center of photo. Check out examples on "DxO Optical" in correcting distortion in fish eye lenses, things on the outer 1/3rd get much biggggger. So if you want to make your subject look thinner use Photoshop--just don't over do it. I have to add, a lot of this has to do with the viewing distance, when looking at the print-- every thing will correct itself the closer you are to the print--of course with a wide angle lens you might have to look at an 8X10 at only a few inches away,very impractical--- and maybe we should say 10% instead of 10 lbs, I can't see where 10 lbs makes a big difference on --- well I'll leave that up to your imagination. The other major problem in portrait photography is the subject always sees them selfs in the reverse-- When you look at a mirror your seeing your self wrong way round. In a photo of your self you never see the same person you see in the mirror ever day.

"I'm okay with the camera adding extra pounds. It's the hair that the camera somehow subtracts that bothers me."

Don't worry - you can get the hair back. You'll find it on the camera's sensor



I've always thought it was front lighting. Shape requires shading to become form.

I have to disagree with one tip from the article. Never encourage overweight subjects to wear black. The slimming abilities of black are highly overrated. When a heavy person wears black they look fat and depressing. It's better to just look fat. It is my experience that many more people think they look good in all black than can actually pull it off. Black tuxes and slinky cocktail dresses are fine. In most other situations all or mostly all black makes people look like goth teenagers rather than the hip look they are imagining.

I've noticed lately that many digital cameras now include an image-processing algorithm which adds considerable gray to my hair.

Isn't this saying from TV? I assume it comes from whatever focal length / format was typically used for news segments when the expression was coined.

Re: Dear Cecil: I've often heard people say "the camera adds ten pounds" when they're photographed. Is that just an excuse or is there any truth to it? Emma

That's means they look like they're 25 stone 10 lbs on a roll of 36


"It's the hair that the camera somehow subtracts that bothers me."

Hmmm, shows mine fine. But an oddity of the light, I guess, a lot of it is grey now.
And I just can't explain how so much of it travelled to my nose.

"the camera adds ten pounds"?????? He must be using a medium format film camera—my Pentax K10D only adds 1.7 lbs (793 gr) to my camera bag.

'Never use a lens whose focal length, in millimeters, is less than the weight of the woman.'

This explains the recent Ralph Lauren debacle: The photographer only had a 35mm lens, and selected his models accordingly...

"Never encourage overweight subjects to wear black. The slimming abilities of black are highly overrated. "

Note that the article says:
"Dress your subject in black and put him against a dark background, thereby concealing excessive circumference."

The key being the dark background that de-emphasizes the outline.

So let's say the focal length-to-subject weight ratio dictates a 600mm telephoto. How would you explain the need to stand across the street to take your subject's portrait?

Somewhat related, my mother never wants anyone to photograph her because she believes cameras make her look angry. True to form, all of my photos of her are of her with an angry sneer for an expression. You can't win.

"How would you explain the need to stand across the street to take your subject's portrait?"

Same way you explain the need to smear vaseline on the lens: "This will make the photograph look better."

Size doesn't matter. Consider the beautiful women, Laurie Toby Edison shows in "Women En Large."


I just don't know what to make of Jen Davis's work. It just commands attention on so many levels. I think in a word...bravery. That's it. Its just...bravery. The technical quality of the photography is for the most part great as well. I like.

I'm pretty sure the "ten pounds" rule was a TV thing. I wonder if the fact that early TV screens were spherical had something to do with it? And btw, sensor size is also left out of the quoted portraiture "rule".

Of course this kind of camera phenomena applies to any subject: women, men, body parts, cars, homes, lawns, camera gear, etc., and depends on a complex and highly variable combination of optical phenomena, perceptual cues and expectations. It becomes an issue when it interacts with ideas of beauty, or documentation or with self image.

I would think that, at least for the optical part, there must be actual applicable formulas out there, or attempts at such, accounting for variables like field of view, optical distortion and distance to subject, and solving for the difference in actual size to apparent size of three dimensional volumes. Perhaps they'd be related to the equations for DOF and circles of confusion? (OK, sorry about that last crack. I just couldn't resist!)

'Never use a lens whose focal length, in millimeters, is less than the weight of the woman.'

Since longer lenses tend to flatten perspective because of increased distance and features tend to sink into the face making it look fatter I am assuming the recommendation is also not to change the shooting distance catching just the eyes, nose and lips with nothing of the surroundings. Or maybe just a winking eye and brow.

I think the 10lbs is added to one's perception of what they actually look like. Its hard not to be fooling yourself about how good you look! :-)

With respect to retouching the effects of aging - I take the approach that I try to make the subject look like they had been on a long vacation, were rested and relaxed. That way the image becomes more like them on their best day rather than some digital homage to some time in the (possibly distant) past. People appreciate that and seem very happy about it when I explain it to them. The result is more real, just not as WOW as when I take 20 years and 15 lbs off, which I do sometimes to demonstrate how they shouldn't trust any magazine cover, ever.

No one has mentioned that when you step up to medium format your focal lengths increase. a normal lens on a medium format camera is 90mm what about large format? if i busted out the 4x5 i'd be talking about 150mm normal lens.

Obviously the rule only applies to those shooting in 35mm (full frame for you digitals) formats.


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